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Alaska Supreme Court remands gun case back to trial court

Posted: February 26, 2013 - 1:10am
Rayco Sales, a gun shop in Juneau, is seen in this March 2012 file photo.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Rayco Sales, a gun shop in Juneau, is seen in this March 2012 file photo.

The Alaska Supreme Court has vacated a superior court’s ruling that dismissed a wrongful death suit against a Juneau gun shop owner.

In an opinion issued Friday, the high court remanded the case back to Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg for further consideration, although affirming his interpretation of a federal gun law.

“... Because it is unclear whether certain evidence before the superior court actually was or should have been considered when granting summary judgment dismissing the (Kims) claims, we vacate the summary judgment ruling and remand for further consideration,” Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the 28-page opinion.

The case began when the family of Simone Young Kim, who was murdered by Jason Coday at the Juneau Fred Meyer in August 2006, sued the owner of Rayco Sales gun shop, alleging he negligently or illegally provided Coday the rifle used to shoot Kim.

Attorneys for the Kims argued Ray Coxe sold Coday the rifle off the books, while attorneys for Coxe said that allegation was based on “unsupported assumptions and speculation.” Coxe asserted immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal law that largely prohibits lawsuits against sellers of firearms for injury caused by the misuse of a firearm. The Kims said PLCAA did not apply in this case, and they additionally argued that it was unconstitutional.

The supreme court affirmed Pallenberg’s ruling that PLCAA is constitutional, and found that PLCAA does not infringe on Alaska’s lawmaking sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment, violate separation of powers, violate federal due process, nor violate equal protection.

But the dispute about whether the gun was sold off the books is a “critical” evidentiary issue which should be considered further, Winfree wrote.

“This dispute is whether on the facts of this case a reasonable inference can be drawn that Coxe voluntarily transferred or illegally sold Coday the rifle, or whether the reasonable inference is that Coday stole the rifle from Coxe,” Winfree wrote.

Winfree wrote that some of the Kims claims cannot survive under Coxe’s versions of events — the firearm’s theft.

“But if there is a factual dispute whether Coday stole the rifle or whether Coxe sold the rifle or otherwise knowingly transferred it to Coday, summary judgment was not appropriate on these claims,” Winfree wrote.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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